Filed under: aretz israel, gallery, Hebron-Machpelah, spiritual Gates, Tohu and Vohu
This is the natural opening of the Cave of Macpelah at Hebron. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their wives were buried here.
King Herod the built an enormous wall around the cave. And today that wall, called the Tomb of the Patriarchs, is the best preserved Herodian building anywhere in the Holy Land. The walls are massive. At the corners there are stones that are 25 feet long and five feet high and weigh around 200 tons. The stones have a margin around the edges, just like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Herod’s builders covered the area inside the wall with a stone floor, and that floor is still in place today.
Most unfortunately, the keys to MACHPELAH and with them the responsibility, for this site was given to the Waqf, by the then Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan. They also prevent any possibility of entering the underground tombs.
Moshe Dayan, an amateur archeologist, when realizing the consequences of his action, tried to seek information concerning the underground caverns. (Perhaps he was searching for artifacts to add to his personal collection?!) In any case, any formal or official investigation was impossible. He therefore decided upon an unusual method to quench his curiosity. Within the large hall, called “the Yitzhak Hall” there is a hole in the floor, from which candles are lowered into the cave below. According to prevalent rumors, this was an entrance into the Caves of the Machpelah themselves. However, the diameter of the hole was extremely narrow – 26 centimeters. No adult could possibly fit through this opening, but Dayan found a solution. A 12 year old girl named Michal, young but courageous, agreed to be lowered into the underground room.
One misty night, Dayan ordered the Muslim guards to leave the building. He told them that they must leave for “reasons of security”. They had no idea what was about to take place. Using the dark night as a cover, Michal was brought to the site. The opening was uncovered and Michal was lowered into the underground room. The spectators were filled with suspense and worry when the girl disappeared from sight.
Michal found herself in a round room, whose floor was covered with coins, candles, and written notes. Looking around, she saw a narrow, dark corridor, to the south. The brave girl entered this hallway and after 17 meters discovered a stairwell. In total darkness she climbed the steps. After 15 steps she found a wall blocking her way. A large stone prevented her from continuing. She tried to move the stone, but to no avail. It wouldn’t budge. Having no other choice, she turned around, descended the stairs, and headed back to the small room via the narrow corridor. There, she was lifted out of the room back into the Yitzhak Hall. She was happily received, and was totally unharmed.
The surprised Dayan wrote out the findings and sketched the underground caves as described by the 12-year-old Michal: a circular room, a corridor, and the stairs. The caves themselves remained a mystery and were not drawn.
A group of us, from Hebron-Kiryat Arba, and in particular the staff of “Midreshet Hebron” were filled with awe at the thought of entering the underground Caves of the Machpelah. Moshe Dayan’s story piqued our curiosity and determination to find a way into the caves. We could not, of course, enter the same way that Michal entered, via the small circular entrance. However, the other side of the corridor caught our attention. She related that she had climbed stairs that were blocked off by a stone. Where could that stone be?
We measured the distance she had spoken of and revealed that the stone was on the other side of the Yitzhak hall, covered by Arab prayer-rugs. The area was always occupied by Arabs. How could we succeed in moving that stone, thereby allowing us to descend into the caves?
We crawled in a very narrow opening into a circular cave, carved in the stone, deep in the earth. The cave was filled with dust, to its very edge. It was impossible to stand or sit, only to crawl. We continued inside until it widened, and then, a second cave. This cave was smaller than the first, but here awaited us another surprise. It was also filled with dust, but among the dust were bone and remnants of pottery scattered around, some of which were in good condition.
Wind blew in the caves, but the sounds of our hearts pounding was audible. No living being had been this close to the Patriarchs in thousands of years. Each one of us spent some time considering the significance of being in the Caves of the Patriarchs, and of prayer here, adjacent to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah, and even to the tombs of Adam and Eve, by the entrance to the Garden of Eden, where souls and prayers ascend. Silent prayer, in the presence of our Forefathers.
Following this tremendous spiritual experience, we began to examine the cave itself. The bones captured our attention. Were these the bones of the Patriarchs? We knew that it is written that Righteous ones, even in death, are called living, and that the Patriarchs, called the “slumberers of Hebron” wake and pray for mercy. As we investigated, it became clear that the pottery belonged to the First Temple Era, the Era of the Judean Kings. The Jews of Hebron, and the Jews of all of Judea, understanding the importance and significance of the Caves of the Machpelah, were directed to bring both the bones and the pottery into the underground caves themselves.
This discovery closed an information gap concerning the Caves of the Machpelah, continuing from the days of our Patriarch Ya’akov, the last Forefather buried in the Cave, through to the days of Herod, who built the huge structure above the Cave.
After several hours, as dawn approached, we were forced to leave these sacred caverns, so as not to be caught below. We concluded an unforgettable spiritually uplifting experience. We were privileged to reveal the underground Caves of the Machpelah, to pray there, to reveal ancient Jewish pottery from the Era of the Kingdom of Judea within the Caves, and, even if only for a few moments, united, as Sons with their Fathers.
The Macpelah at Hebron
Ze’ev Yevin of the Israel Department of Antiquities and Stanley Goldfoot were our helpful field guides during our brief 1983 radar and seismic exploration of the tomb of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah Rebecca and Leah at Hebron.
The building over the traditional site of the cave purchased by the Patriarch (Genesis 23, 25:7-10, 49:28-35) is known to the Jews as the Macpelah, and to the Arabs as the Haram el Khalil. The building is Herodian embellished by minarets and roof decorations dating from the time the Moslems overcame the Crusader control of the Holy Land, or later. The subterranean rooms under the building were last opened to the outside area at the time of the Crusaders when the caves or rooms were used for intrusive burials. In 1967 Moshe Dayan lowered a small girl with camera through a small hole in the floor thus gaining some information on the basement rooms, as well as ending a 700 year old ban on non-Moslems entering the Haram. Since 1967 the site has been both a mosque and a synagogue, and it is of course a hallowed spot for Christians since Abraham is not only called “the friend of God” but also “the father of all who believe” in the Bible.
Very little is actually known about the caves or even the rooms under the floor of the Macpelah, so my colleagues and I were exited to probe through all four outside walls of the building on a one-day visit. (We asked for, but could not obtain, permission to make cart radar and seismic soundings vertically downwards through the floor inside the building – that viewing geometry would no doubt give very useful results).
Figure 6: Geophysical crew conducting radar and seismic measurements into the caves beneath the Macpelah. All four outside walls of the building were sounded in the one working day available.
Our one day of radar and seismic data collection brought us far more echoes and reflections than we could expect to interpret in many months of labor! All we had time for was to map and tabulate hundreds of echoes and write our friends in Israel a short letter report. Our conclusions: the subterranean rooms and caves under the floor of the Macpelah are many and complex. We can only hope the entire underground complex will be excavated and explored by the archaeologist in the near future. We would love to be on hand to do more geophysical work, especially if it became possible for us to view downwards through the floor of the building.
Chayah Sarah BS”D From this parsha we can learn some of the secrets of the cave of Machpelah. To do this lets go back first to parsha Lech Lecha where we find Hashem (God) tells Avraham to “Arise and walk through the land in the length of it and the width of it for I will give it to you.” Then Avraham removed his tent and camped in the plain of Mamre which is in Chevron and there he built a alter to Hashem. After seeing all the land Avraham decided to go to this special place. “The plain of Mamre which is in Chevron and there he built a alter to Hashem.”
In this weeks parsha we find “Avraham Buried Sarah in the cave of Machpelah which is before Mamre. The same is Chevron in the land of Cannan and Avraham was old well stricken in age and Hashem blessed him in all things” We must ask what does it mean “the Same is Chevron in the land of Cannan” ?. And why after telling us of the burial of Sarah in Machpelah does the verse conclude saying “Hashem blessed him in all things” ?.
The name Machpelah means folded. In the Zohar we are told that the field and cave rests on a 2 fold area namely the world above and world below. Thus through this spiritual gate all souls pass when the leave this world. At this place the vail of the physical world wears thin giving one potenial for greater Divine awareness. Machpelah is in Chevron also called Keryat Arba Meaning the city of 4. If one goes to Machpelah they will find in the cave the graves of Adam and Chava, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka and Yaakov and Leah. Yuhuda gathers from the 4 corners of the earth. This is Chevron (Chevron means to join together). There in Chevron Hashem requests to join them as one. As we say in the Amida “gather us together from the 4 corners of the earth”. Every man who occupies in Torah is Chevron. Keriat Arba is also called chevron it is the place the 4 corners of the earth are gathered. There dresses tohu, vohu, choshech, thum in the earth and the 4 chyot haKodesh (angels) are revealed (through them) in the 4 yesodot (elements). In the idea of the green kav. When You say the Sma with your heart mouth and thought this is Chevron. There goes out a ruach (spirit) during saying of the Sma from the 4 letters of יהו”ה. This is Chevron. It is the joining of the Nashama, Shechina, the 4 letters of יהו”ה and קרית ארבע. Galut is the opposite. The 4 galut correspond to the 4 orlah (unclean husks). Galut is separation. They are not then “one nation in the earth”, as the name יהו”ה no longer rests upon them. Death is when the Torah doesn’t rest from above, and rises from below away from the 4 yesodot. All who the Torah separates from, their Nashama is destroyed. The Nashama is the precious thrown that Chevron unifies, it is the Shechina.1
We are told that the cave is before Mamre. This place is where earlier Avraham built a alter to Hashem. The word Mamre means rebellious. This refers to the ones that were burried there first. The first to be rebellious Adam and Chava. Its also interesting to note that Mamre in Hebrew has the same letters as Amran the father of Moshe a man who never sinned. The opposite of the rebellious Adam and Chava. It will be from Amram’s son Moshe who brought down the Torah from mount Sinai that word will be redeemed from its current rebellious state. As we learn from the Oar haChyim that the final redemption will occur in the merit of Moshe. The redemption has been so long delayed becouse Moshe refuses to invoke his merit, his merit being the merit of Torah study that is so lacking in these later generations. So may it be that soon in our days that we will see the realization of the blessing given to Avraham from Hashem to be blessed in all things with the comming of our righteous Mashiach quickly in our days.